Flowers They’re Not

 

Many have translated this Bai Ju Yi (772-846) poem as “A Bloom Is Not A Bloom”, but I translate it as

 

Flowers They’re Not

They look like flowers, but they’re not.

They look like mists, but they’re not.

They appear in the middle of the night,

And are gone by the break of light.

The spring dreams come,

like transient joy;

And leave like morning clouds,

no-where to be found.

Early Blossoms

This is a Tang poem by Zhang Wei (aound 778) which I translate as

 

Early Blossoms

 

Like strips of pristine white jade,

A tree of plum blossom stands;

At the end of a streamlet,

Near the bridge quite far away.

Would those nearer the streamlet

Flower and blossom first; or

Could they be frosty snowflakes

Still lingering on the twigs?

Listening to Music

Liu Chang Qin (709-785) is another Tang poet who is not very well-known.

 

But one of his poems stuck a chord with me:

 

Listening to Music

 

From the seven* strings come a sad melody,

As desolate as cold pine trees.

Though I love the old melodies,

People are not willing to play them these days.

 

* An ancient Chinese instrument, the Gu Qin, has seven strings.

Escape Plan

Neither a fan of Sylvester Stallone nor Arnold Schwarzenegger, I gave this 2013 movie a miss when it was on the big screen, but decided to borrow the DVD to watch these two actors team up onscreen for fun. I was also curious about the acting chops of the former governor of California, as I only know him for his famous “I’ll be back” line from The Terminator movies which I’ve never watched.

The movie opens with Ray Breslin (Stallone) escaping from the Bendwater Federal Penitentiary in Colorado. It turns out that Breslin deliberately got himself arrested in the first place and put in an Isolation Centre because he wants to fully test the security of the system. He was a lawyer, a Prosecutor, who thought putting people in prison was not enough; he wanted to make sure they stay there and didn’t get out. And this is the way he has chosen to live his life for the past 14 years. It sounds implausible to me, so my expectation of a good story plummets way down; but I was still curious about Schwarzenegger’s role.

This comes when Breslin is unexpectedly snatched and taken disoriented from New Orleans to the International Detainee Unit at an unknown location. Here, he meets Emil Rattmayer (Schwarzenegger), a fellow inmate. Breslin wants to  get into an isolation area, so Rattmayer picks a fight with him as a favour. Though this is a really violent and bloody fight scene, it rings false to me as I’m sure it’s all the choreographed work of stuntmen, with visual and special effects thrown in.

Both end up in “The Tank”, which is an ultra-secret, high-tech facility. But this is exactly what Breslin wants: to have this place tested. This place they’re now in turns out to be in the middle of an ocean, somewhere along the Moroccon Coast. Still, both manage to escape.

This supposed action-thriller-mystery did not provide any intrigue; more than three-quarters of the time, the environment is the same, thus giving a sense of claustrophobia depite its futuristic look. Neither did I get any sense of authenticity in the two leading characters.

Songs From Our Heart

August being the month of Singapore’s National Day, this concert consists of a myriad of Singapore folk tunes. Today’s Beautiful Sunday concert is a performance by Novo Winds, a non-profit community band (from the Toa Payoh South Community Club) formed in July 2010. The Latin term “de novo” is defined as “anew; afresh; from the beginning”. Similarly, Novo Winds seeks to broaden the scope and function of band music by incorporating new performance concepts and musical directions, as well as to reach out to passionate musicians and promote music development to the members with the opportunity to further their ensemble experience.

 

The concert opened with City of Dreams Symphonic Suite for Wind Orchestra commisioned for the Novo Winds. The Suite is in three movements:

  • I. Fanfare – the awakening of dreams; a tribute to the late Leong Yoong Pin;
  • II. Intermezzo – in remembrance of Lee Kuan Yew who initiated the band project in 1966;
  • III. March – riding the rainbow and looking towards the future.

The piece was conducted by a youthful-looking Issac Lim, and I recognised the motif that is made up of the first four notes of the National Anthem (sometimes transposed) no less than a dozen times in the third movement.

This is followed by a never-before-heard rendition of Rasa Sayang (in an interesting twist, with a cha-cha-cha tempo). The vocalised section was a nice touch and the audience joined in the clapping.

A Chinese musical created by Liang Wen Fu (the father of xinyao) called If There Are Seasons, was played to great success in 2007; and this, plus a medley of other compositions by Liang, was next.

Tales of the Sea with Di Tanjong Katong was commisioned by the Co-Curricular Branch (MOE) for the 2003 Singapore Youth Festival. It follows the development of Singapore from a fishing village to a modern city. There is a passage where the winds and drums depict the turbulent times, and other smaller instruments depicting peace and finally a triumphant feeling of progress and prosperity with the full orchestra. From this piece onwards, the Principal Conductor took over the baton.

Dick Lee’s Life Story, specially arranged for wind orchestra by the Principal Conductor, was next. It’s one of my favourite local compositions, and images of the movie Wonder Boy (which I watched recently) kept flashing in my mind. I found myself wishing I still had a cassette player to play my old cassette.

A medley of (about seven) xinyao by Liang, Ng King Kang and Roy Loi got me tapping and humming along. This set the mood for Dick Lee’s  Home, specially arranged by Wong Kah Choon (who won the prestigious international Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition last year and had majored in Composition at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music). It is a beautiful arrangement, with an opening consisting of blue notes and drums, a rousing middle setion with rhythmic percussion which picked up a happy mood and a lovely saxaphone solo with a jazzy feel.

All too soon, the orchesstra played the last piece for the day: a medley of Chinese TV sitcom theme songs. I don’t have the habit of watching such shows, but I recognised some of the songs (such as  Youth 1-2-3, Moonlight in the City and Voices from the Heart) because these are very popular.

What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon – listening to music that I enjoy! (The only thing that marred the experiece was occasional loud wailing from toddlers and babies as young as 2 months old.)